Commentary: Former Laurel businessman Bill Schmidt Sr. takes it one day at a time

For Bill Schmidt Sr., the recipe for life consists of its simple pleasures. They begin with his nine kids, 19 grandchildren, 12 greats.

Then comes his health.


Schmidt, who lived in Laurel for decades and ran a flooring business on Main Street, endured three heart attacks. The first one occurred when he was 42.

Later, there was quadruple bypass surgery, followed by a device buried in him that keeps tabs on his heart rate.


By that time, though, his heart had worn out, like an old car, and he needed a new one. In 1991, after waiting six months, he had a heart transplant.

Twenty-one years later, he's fresh and flourishing in Missouri, where he lives with his eldest child, Tina Locknane, who sold real estate in Laurel for two decades.

Sitting at the kitchen table of his son Bob's home in Savage, surrounded by four of his children, Schmidt reflected on the road he's navigated and how he feels today at 84. "We've got a barn, 140 by 40 feet. I painted that with a brush."

"He mows all the grass. It might take him a week, but he does it alone," Locknane said. "Dad is the most positive, upbeat person I know. It's always been his way to put one foot in front of the other."

"And he was overdoing it on the treadmill," chimed in son, Bill Jr., a former Laurel City Police officer. "He had to back off."

Bill added, "One of Dad's comments is 'when I go to bed, I can't wait to wake up in the morning.' He's been like that for ... 20 years!"

"Dad is doing remarkably well," enthused Bob, "and has refused to give up. His only complaint is his deafness or his hard of hearing."

Because of his difficulty hearing, Schmidt didn't quite make out all the verbal bouquets that were filling the cozy room, like nine dozen red and yellow carnations.

"I think between God and my cardiologist is why I'm here," Schmidt said. His doctor, Sung Lee, also successfully implanted a device in former Vice President Dick Cheney to regulate his heartbeat.

No stroll down the sweet trail of memories would be complete without a word about Mary, the family's late matriarch. Schmidt lost his wife in 2010.

During her illness, her husband was already in the same intensive-care unit. "They allowed Mom and Dad to be in the same room," recalled another daughter, Darlene.

"While he was in there, he took his oxygen off," Bill Schmidt Jr. said. "He knew it was his turn to take care of Mom." They were both released from the hospital on the same day.


The world's first heart transplant was performed in 1967 by South African surgeon Dr. Christiaan Barnard, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. In 2011, 2,332 Americans received a new heart. About 3,000 people are on the wait list for a new heart at any given time.

The Schmidts want everyone to remember that organs can be donated upon death. They go beyond the heart to include lungs, kidneys, liver, pancreas and the small intestine.

While Bill Schmidt Sr. admited that he likes the weather more in Missouri, the trove of memories stored up in Laurel are always close. Daily, he and friends around town would sit in Schmidt's shop and catch up on all the latest goings-on until the old Citizens National Bank opened for business.

"Things were more cordial, more personal, then," he said. This was an era in Laurel, he added wistfully, when a gentleman's handshake was as good as the ink on a contract.

With his probing, luminous blue eyes lighting up every crevice of the kitchen, Bill Schmidt Sr., survivor, declared that as he grows older, he talks to God more, drawing deep peace from it. In 1970, after his first heart attack, he said he went through an out-of-body experience, "like an airliner at 30,000 feet, going through real heavy clouds. It was real serene, real peaceful."

An only child, he talked about his brood, about how Mary wanted 12 and they were blessed with nine — enough to field a baseball team. "I attribute that," he said with a childlike twinkle, his progeny hanging on to every syllable, "to the fact that she (Mary) never had a headache."

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